Learn to learn a language

 

What's the one thing you need to learn a language?

. . . I'll tell you at the end of class.

To be honest, you should have guessed it far before the last word of this piece, but it is become something that I consistently remind my students, and myself about.

Of course there are many factors in successful learning, but the first step is to place a bigger importance on it, and focus on your objectives.

The most common reason for students not progressing or for failing exams is that they didn't put English in their diary. They didn't do enough practice and came up with too many excuses.

Why can't we just be honest about what is and isn't important to us? We all have the same number of hours in a day, and days in a week. How we choose to spend that time is out choice. And whatever people say, it is a choice.

If you don't have a choice, and you are surrounded with a new language all day, every day, you will adapt. The guy in this book did. I'm sure that there if you were stranded on a desert island with only The Bible in another language, you would learn to read it (even if you are an atheist).

You won't find an extra hour down the back of the sofa, and you won't win one by playing the lottery, so you have to make cuts on other things in order to give yourself longer periods for interaction with a language.

It's not all cuts though. Those 20 minute bus journeys, that Saturday morning spent cleaning the house, or the lunch break spent blabbering about last night's football results, can all be spent with English.

Students seem to have a very antiquated idea that study must be completed in one huge block, on the same day as classes. They rush through the work, and moan at me for setting them too much homework, and get disheartened when their answers are wrong.

For most people, improving their English doesn't hold much importance. But the simple fact is you have to attach a much higher importance to it if you want to pass exams. And here in Spain, everybody wants to pass exams.

There seems to be no further plan than to get everyone certified in English. Films are still dubbed, people are still too shy to talk in English, and there is little interest in British or American culture.

School teachers worry that they won't have a job next year, because they failed the C1 English exam again, and candidates who will rarely or never need to use English, are sent back to the drawing board because they are missing a Cambridge certificate.


Just like with everything nowadays, people want to throw money at the problem, rather than connecting with it, and planning a solution. As much as there are strategies and tactics to help students achieve higher grades, the exams are a test of your level.

Many of my approaches try to incorporate English as a daily activity - apps, podcasts, TV series, novels and news. Hopefully, this makes English a little more 'real world' and a little less like your least favourite school subject, with punishments for test failures.

Interestingly enough, even after all of this moaning, I am planning on taking classes come September, and even doing an exam myself. I hope I can dedicate the right amount of time to passing!



So what's the one thing you need to learn a language?




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Thanks for reading. Here's a bonus video for you to enjoy.